Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Nice work NYTimes

I remember the first time my daughter took me to a nail salon in Astoria, for a Mother's Day present. I couldn't believe how inexpensive it was to have some poor woman wash and buff my feet and paint my toenails. I gave the woman who worked on me a tip that was about twice what the actual service cost, and I made sure I slipped it to her without anybody else noticing.

Later my daughter asked "why did you give such a big tip?"

"You just know they are being exploited," I said, "look at them - all Asian women and Latinas, you know they are being ripped off because they're immigrants or can't speak English."

And unfortunately I was correct - and it is even worse than I imagined. The NYTimes did a series of articles last week about the horrific exploitation of the woman who work in these salons - and as if wage theft and unpaid overtime and 24 hour shifts and low wages and toxic chemicals weren't bad enough, it turns out the mostly Korean-run salons had an institutionalized racist system for paying workers - Koreans were paid the most, then Chinese, then other Asians and Latinas were paid the lowest.

As today's NYTimes editorial said:
Across the country, countless workers in the nail salon industry, mainly immigrant women, toil in misery and ill health for meager pay, usually with no overtime, abused by employers who show little or no consideration for their safety and well-being. It is a world of long days and toxic chemicals, where the usual protections of government have failed, at all levels.
Luckily Governor Cuomo of New York has taken decisive action: Cuomo Orders Emergency Measures to Protect Workers at Nail Salons
Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo ordered emergency measures on Sunday to combat the wage theft and health hazards faced by the thousands of people who work in New York State’s nail salon industry. 
Effective immediately, he said in a statement, a new, multiagency task force will conduct salon-by-salon investigations, institute new rules that salons must follow to protect manicurists from the potentially dangerous chemicals found in nail products, and begin a six-language education campaign to inform them of their rights.
Nail salons that do not comply with orders to pay workers back wages, or are unlicensed, will be shut down. The new rules come in response to a New York Times investigation of nail salons — first published online last week — that detailed thewidespread exploitation of manicurists, many of whom have illnesses that some scientists and health advocates say are caused by the chemicals with which they work.

This is what journalism is supposed to do - comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.